The Problem with Shoulding Yourself

should comparisonI’ve been shoulding on myself. It’s a nasty, stinky, embarrassing business. It took me well into adulthood to break this filthy habit, and I thought I was finished with the whole, ugly mess.

But, no.

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Theodore Roosevelt. He was wise in so many ways. Life Hacker explores it further here.

My intellect is convinced comparison is the perfect way to verify my progress, validate my work and move forward. What kind of drooling, slack-jawed logic is that? (Click to Tweet)

For instance, if I were producing cutting edge work, creating never before seen,  mind-blowing and history-making art, who would validate that? My hubs would, for sure…but probably no one else. Being the weak-minded, approval seeking artist I am, I’d probably stop what I was doing, hang my head in shame, strike a match and burn the canvasses.


I know better. Picasso painted shit sometimes. For me, it’s time to regroup, re-set the compass and follow one of my guiding principles… again…

Yeah, I do realize the irony here. Ahem…moving right along…

  • I will not utter the word or entertain the thought I should paint soley to please others.
  • I will not utter the word or entertain the thought I should paint solely to make money (though, I still welcome monetary appreciation).
  • I will not utter the word or entertain the thought I SHOULD be doing more, or differently, or like “X.” Art is an
    “New England Polaroid” Courtesy of Micah Crandall Bear

    expression of who we are. If you told me to write differently, I’d tell you to stick it right up your own “shoulder.” (um, that’s should-er…not shoulder. Everyone’s a critic).

The creative process is a freeing, often joyful, venting of the soul. How can creativity truly take flight when you’re desperately trying to follow rules set by society, groups and the muckity-mucks? They all have different opinions. The very nature of striving to please others completely interferes with the process.  When we compare ourselves to others, or even compare our previous work to our current work, it can cause issues. If worrying about the measurements doesn’t impact our work, it is apt to affect commitments we’ve made to ourselves. That being said, we do need to employ methods to move forward and grow. But, not at the expense of our art itself.

A friend, Micah Crandall-Bear, whose work I simply adore, recently posted this quote:

should comparison

 Thank you for sharing the quote, Micah. It gave me the permission I needed. Someday I should be lucky to paint

just. like. you.

Crud!  I guess everyone’s entitled to a slip now and then.

 Keep it Clean!




Special thanks to Micah Crandall-Bear for his generosity and sharing an image of his incredible work and Andy Warhol’s quote. He can be found at 

Michelle Andres is a writer, artist and coach who nudges, nay, shoves, her clients in the direction of their dreams, Writer, Artist, Coachhelping them to overcome non-productive behaviours and enjoy more success in their lives. 

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10 Replies to “The Problem with Shoulding Yourself”

  1. I get this Michelle. I really do. I’m guilty as I’m sure many of us are. Probably more are than aren’t. And the ones who say they aren’t are probably just lying to themselves.

    By the way, I thought that was your piece of work until I read this post all the way. So maybe it’s all about our own perception as well.

    1. Haha, Jaime. I wish it were my work…it’s incredible. It’s a piece by Micah Crandall-Bear, a painter I really admire. Recently, I’ve been featuring other artists’ work on my Well Lived Life blog. Feel free, if you’d like something featured, to submit a quality jpeg, the name and a note of permission for use and if the theme is appropriate, I’ll use it. ~ m

  2. I just completed a 30 paintings in 30 days challenge. Figured it was a good discipline to kick start the new year. Every day I posted the previous day’s painting online. What really surprised me were the reactions. Paintings I thought were crap, ones I was embarassed to post, often got the rave reviews and most likes. Sometimes that happened with the ones I was most pleased with but often it didn’t.

    So the question is, do I educate people why one painting is better than another or do I accept the fact there will be different markets for my work? I’m not going to stop painting the good stuff but I do like to sell…

    1. Susan, I loved your self-portrait series. I don’t know about you, but I give a wide berth to the collector. I want my work to resonate with them and their own, personal experiences. From that point of view, I would do as Warhol’s quote suggests. Just paint. If they like it and buy it, that’s great. It seems a bad idea to educate a collector as to why they shouldn’t like your work…just sayin’… 😉

  3. This was another well-timed article for me Michelle…I had just completed a local event where few even understood what a mandala is, I have to wonder what I am doing. I don’t know that I have often compared myself to other artists just because my message is so specific…but I do wonder if my artwork is understood (?) Especially after that event. My final thoughts after long introspection is that I need to find my market! I create specifically from something that has moved me spiritually and I know there is a market just waiting for my message! I refuse to let it get me down; I just know that the timing will happen!

    The artist that you included in your blog, Micah Crandall Bear, and his painting is amazing. I went to his website to check out more of his work and it is beautiful! Thanks for your idea of including others’ work…and many thanks for your insightful, thoughtful blog! Happy Friday!

    1. Deborah, I think you nailed it. You have to find your market. Keep creating your message. Do a bit of research…you’ll find them. If you need help with identifying markets, I am available for coaching.

      Yes, Micah’s work is beautiful. His website does not do his work justice…seeing the paintings in person is a very moving experience. I’m not sure where you live, but he frequently shows in Sacramento and his website should have locations of additional galleries. Thanks for your kind words about the blog. I’m so glad you enjoy it. ~m

  4. Sometimes it seems as though you’re creating art for nobody but yourself and in a dark day I wonder why. But I know there’s nothing else I’d rather do and I am lucky to be able to do it. And every so often there is a breakthrough of appreciativeness and even money!

    1. Ah, Mary! It’s the life of an artist. And if, for some reason, you were not permitted to create, you’d simply go mad! That bit of money, it does validate us…though it may also lead to “should.” The way I see it, being an artist is a sweet privilege.

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